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Sanders: Economic inequality a death sentence for the poor

Published: Jul. 21, 2021 at 6:25 PM EDT
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WASHINGTON (WCAX) - The expected life span of Americans has gotten shorter.

New government data shows life expectancy in the U.S. dropped to its lowest level since 2003, with people living, on average, just over 77 years.

That’s a year-and-a-half less than it was in 2020-- the largest one-year decline since World War II.

The drop is due mainly to the COVID-19 pandemic. Health officials say it’s responsible for close to 74% of the overall life expectancy decline.

But the drop in life expectancy isn’t affecting everyone equally. According to the Health Inequality Project, from 2001 to 2014, the richest Americans gained about three years in longevity while the poorest Americans experienced no gains.

These disparities were the subject of a Senate subcommittee hearing on Wednesday chaired by Sen. Bernie Sanders.

Among the witnesses-- Kathleen Mullan-Harris of the University of North Carolina who produced a study on what is driving rising mortality rates among working-age adults.

“There is no one cause that explains the increase in death rates but we noted three common factors underlying all the trends: economic adversity, economic inequality and vulnerability,” Mullan Harris said.

“What we are talking about is that if you are wealthy in America, you will live many, many more years than if you are poor,” said Sanders, I-Vermont. “So, it’s not a question of luxuries. It’s literally a question of poverty and stress being a death sentence.”

The Health Inequality Project also studied how gender relates to income and health disparities. The richest American men live 15 years longer than the poorest, while the gap for women is 10 years.

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